Legally, banks are only required to honor checks for six months. Beyond that, it is up to the bank's discretion, which may include contacting the account holder for approval. The bank also can simply bounce the check without even trying to reach out, which means the depositor may get hit with a "deposit item returned" fee that can be up to $30 or more.
- By law, banks are only required to honor checks for up to six months.
- Consider contacting the issuer before attempting to cash a stale check.
- U.S. Treasury checks are good for up to one year.
- Traveler’s checks and domestic U.S. Postal Service money orders don't expire.
It's all too easy to misplace a check. But figuring out what to do if a check resurfaces may seem confusing, especially if they resurface months, or even years, later—perhaps well after their expiration date.
A personal check that's several months old may have been forgotten by the issuer. Practically all checking accounts have zero interest, meaning most people only keep just enough in the account to pay the bills. As a result, when the forgotten check resurfaces without warning, there may not be enough funds in the account to cover it.
This is why it is always best to contact the issuer before attempting to cash a stale or outstanding check. Making the call may be awkward, but accidentally slapping your grandma with a hefty overdraft fee is worse. Ask for a new check if the old one is past the six-month mark.
Personal Checks vs. Company-Printed Checks
Do personal checks expire more quickly than company-printed checks? Actually, there is no technical difference between these two types of checks, but the risk of triggering fees is slightly higher with personal checks, as companies are less likely to carry bare-bones balances.
Some checks come printed with text stating that a check becomes void after 90 days. This can be safely disregarded as an attempt to remind people not to hold a check for too long. The six-month rule applies regardless of what is printed on the check.
Examples of Expiration of Checks by Type
Checks issued by the U.S. Treasury are good for one year. Make sure to cash your federal tax refund check no later than a year from the date it was issued. You can request a new check from state and federal agencies.
If you lose your state tax refund or a local government check, you'll have to contact the agency that sent it to you. State and local governments may have their own expiration dates.
A money-order issuer may charge fees on the order if enough time passes. Check with your issuer for guidelines.
As mentioned, personal checks are usually valid for up to six months after the date they were issued, but you shouldn’t count on the bank to pay attention to the dates.
What Happens If a Check Is Never Cashed?
Checks that remain outstanding for long periods of time can't be cashed, as they become void. Outstanding checks that remain so for a long period of time are known as "stale" checks. Some checks become stale if dated after 60 or 90 days, while all become void after six months.
Can You Cash a Two-Year-Old Check?
You probably cannot cash a check that's two years old. Banks don't have to accept checks that are more than six months old. Banks are still allowed to process an older check, if the institution believes the funds are good.
What Can I Do With an Old, Uncashed Check?
It's always best to contact the issuer before trying to cash a stale or outstanding check. Such a call may be awkward, but it's better than imposing an overdraft fee on the person or business that wrote it. Ask for a new check if the old one is past six months old.
The Bottom Line
Even if banks are only legally required to honor checks for a six-month period, it is usually a good idea to avoid any potential problems by depositing checks when you receive them. And if you fear that a check you have written has been lost or stolen, you should move promptly to cancel the check with your bank.